EPL, Liverpool, World Football

Left Backs for Liverpool: Problem Position Up For Grabs


Deadline day, January 2011. Liverpool complete the signings of Ajax and Uruguay forward Luis Suarez and Newcastle and one-time England cap Andy Carroll. In addition, Fernando Torres departed for the plastic-themed surroundings of West London.

And there was one other outgoing transfer, albeit on loan, which – understandably – didn’t cause quite as much excitement around the club. In fact it was more one of relief in some quarters, while in others an ironic and muted lack of surprise.

Over the past couple of weeks, despite the January transfer window for the Premier League closing, the number of “exclusives” surrounding new-comers to Liverpool FC has barely diminished at all. In fact, perhaps borne of the large sums spent on Suarez and Carroll on deadline day, the rumour mills have furiously cranked up their valuations of all players being linked with the club, taking FSG’s willingness to splash the cash as a sign that every transfer will be of a similar scale in the summer.

It won’t be that way, of course. In the summer Liverpool may indeed make a signing or two for big money. But lets not forget the net outlay of the club in January, despite breaking their own transfer record twice in a matter of hours, was around the £2 million mark. The sales of Ryan Babel and Torres almost totally paid for their replacements, and senior figures within the club effectively admitted that the asking price for Carroll would determine that of Torres, to ensure Liverpool were as close to breaking even as possible.

The other factor to consider, in terms of team re-building and probable targets, is that the permanent position of manager has not yet been filled. Of course, most fans now will want ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish to stay at the helm, which is the danger the owners knew they faced when they asked him to step up last month, but if results and performances continue improving as they have done thus far, it would be on merit that Dalglish was a contender, not merely because of fans’ wishes – but that is a debate for another place.

Besides, to some extent the appointment of Damien Comolli as Director of Football Strategy will alleviate those transition periods, as the club will already have been targeting potential signings and will be able to hand over a list to choose from to any new first team coach.

And so back to that other outgoing transfer on deadline day.

Paul Konchesky, the man who became the unwitting figurehead of the Roy Hodgson era at Liverpool, left on loan to Championship side Nottingham Forest. The former Fulham, Spurs and West Ham full back was brought in by the former boss and – like the man who signed him – very rarely looked comfortable or capable of stepping up to the required level.

His departure means Liverpool are left with just one recognised left sided defender in the senior squad, Fabio Aurelio, and even he has been playing in the centre of midfield of late. Glen Johnson and Danny Wilson have played (well) at left back over the past six weeks for the Reds, while young prospect Jack Robinson continues to impress at reserve level and was included in the travelling party for the first leg of Liverpool’s Europa League game in Prague.

But it is an area where, quite clearly, Liverpool still need to find a player with the ability and consistency to play regularly and contribute to both attacking and defensive sides of the team. It is an area of the team where, arguably, the Reds have been looking to find the right man for for over a decade.

John Arne Riise made the position his own for several seasons and for the first three years of his time on Anfield was irreplaceable, but his form declined rapidly towards the end of his stint at the club. His last meaningful contribution in Red, an own goal against Chelsea in the Champions League, was symptomatic of that.

A year and a month ago, Liverpool had no less than three left backs, all of which had their own qualities but none of which had that extra something special which made them stand out. Emiliano Insua, loaned out to Turkish side Galatasary this season, seemed to have made the position his own for much of the campaign but, as is normal with young defenders, was caught out of position after his regular forays forward too often to be regarded as the immediate answer. Andrea Dossena shortly afterwards departed for Napoli where his defensive proficiencies are somewhat negated and his physical abilities stand out in his preferred wing-back role – ironically a system Liverpool recently implemented to great effect – while Fabio Aurelio missed most of last season, again, with a succession of frustrating injuries.

Before them came a line of tried and untrusted players: European Cup winner and perpetual scapegoat Djimi Traore; the great nearly-man Gregory Vignal; the shoe-in for greatness Christian Ziege; and Stephen Warnock, linked with a loan move back to the club in January and who is to date, until Martin Kelly surely overtakes him at least, the man with the most appearances to his name (67) after graduating from the club’s academy since Steven Gerrard’s breakthrough.

Speaking of Kelly, there is of course now an argument for keeping him on the right side and England’s international right back, Glen Johnson, on the left side of our defence – but even in that case, Liverpool require a recognised left sided defender who can put pressure on Johnson, or any other team mate, to claim that position as his own and really offer Liverpool something special in attack and rock-solid in defence.

This week alone, Liverpool have been linked in various newspaper columns with Newcastle United’s Jose Enrique, a talented and calm-headed player who is yet to be recognised at full International level by Spain, and Celtic’s Honduran Emilio Izaguirre – the Mirror stated that Dalglish had specifically travelled to the Old Firm game on Sunday to watch him in action. If that was the case, Izaguirre certainly did his cause no harm, keeping a clean sheet and setting up the second of Celtic’s three goals with a typical raid down the left side and early low cross to the back post.

Though I rate Enrique as a good player, there are certainly others I would love the club to be looking at as possible additions for the role. Here are a few of them:

Aly Cissokho. The Lyon and one-time France left back; Cissokho combines huge athleticism with a natural inclination to get forward and provide attacking width. A good crosser of the ball and sure with the ball at his feet, Cissokho’s age (23) also makes him an attractive investment for a club looking to rebuild somewhat. A potential downside may be his fee; Lyon paid 15 € million for him and he still has three years left on his contract after the current season ends. Also not a goalscorer; has only netted one league goal in his professional career to date.

Benoit Tremoulinas. Another French defender; Tremoulinas is a constant supply of crosses for current club Bordeaux. In the 2009/10 season he was the top assisting defender with an impressive 7 from his 34 appearances, now-Arsenal forward Marouane Chamakh being one of the key beneficiaries of his deliveries. Though he has yet to be capped by France, Tremoulinas has been included in squads for the national side and is perhaps unfortunate that players like Clichy, Evra and Sakho are also vying for similar roles.

Mauricio Isla. The Chilean wing-back is a versatile performer, who can operate on either side – something which would appeal if Johnson was to continue on the left perhaps? – as well as further forward as a wide attacker. His pace and stamina lends itself to his obvious technical gifts; he is comfortable with the ball at either foot and can give good delivery from wide areas. Currently playing for Udinese in Italy; a work permit should not be too much of an issue given he has been a regular in the national side over the past year.

Fabio Coentrao. A name on everybody’s lips since his performances at the World Cup in 2010, but a name which before then probably not many people who don’t get to see too much European football knew of. His attacking instincts are obvious and, aside from his crossing and passing ability, he is more than comfortable coming infield and targeting a shot at goal. Another who is capable of playing in a more advanced position; Coentrao is perhaps the least solid in defence on this list, but the most spectacular in attack. A player made for a three-man defence, perhaps?

Jeremy Mathieu. A third Frenchman on the list; and another one rarely seen in International squads. The burly Valencia full back does not look as though he should be possessed of blistering pace and an ability to get past opposing defenders with ease, but he is and he does. At 27 years of age he is older than others on this list, but with young Jack Robinson in the wings perhaps that might be what is required? Often targets the byline to reach before pulling back crosses into the near post, and is as strong as an ox in the tackle. Rarely lets crosses beat him when at his best.

Other names such as Atletico Madrid’s Felipe – if he could stay injury free – would be welcomed as targets; Real Madrid’s Marcelo may become available if Los Merengues are indeed targeting a new left back of their own as has been reported, while Sampdoria’s Reto Ziegler has long been linked with a move to Liverpool.

While no definitive answer is likely to be forthcoming until, at the earliest, June or July and once the permanent manager has been appointed, Liverpool’s plethora of scouts around the globe will almost certainly have “find a new left back” somewhere near the top of their to-do lists.

Of course, it may just be that Jack Robinson makes the breakthrough to the first team during the second half of the season, Dalglish is appointed boss and believes him good enough to stay in the team from then on, in which case Liverpool can happily divert several million from the transfer kitty in other directions!

But until, and indeed even if, he does, an absolute necessity for the Reds is to find a player who can do the job in the meantime – and I would say they could do much worse than starting with any one of the five names on the list above.

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